The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pressure rising on Hoon to quit

London, Sept. 10 (Reuters): Pressure on Britain’s defence secretary to resign grew today over allegations he misled an investigation into Prime Minister Tony Blair’s case for war in Iraq.

London’s Evening Standard newspaper said parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) will accuse Geoff Hoon of falsely denying that intelligence analysts expressed unease over Britain’s pre-war dossier on Iraqi banned weapons.

Political observers have already singled out Hoon as the most senior of the likely victims of a row over intelligence that has severely dented Blair’s electoral ratings.

Blair used the September 2002 dossier on Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons to win over sceptical Britons to the need for military action. But five months after Saddam’s overthrow, no such weapons have been found in Iraq. The ISC report into the Iraq war will be published tomorrow and comes amid a separate judicial inquiry which has plunged Blair into the biggest crisis of his six-year rule.

The Hutton inquiry has already revealed that at least two Defence Intelligence staff were unhappy with warnings in the Iraq dossier, particularly the dramatic claim that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons at just 45 minutes’ notice.

The Standard said Hoon was advised by a senior civil servant to tell the ISC in July that concerns were“fully aired” before the claims were put in the dossier. Instead the paper said he flatly denied any doubts had been expressed.

Hoon's action was“misleading” and“unhelpful”, the paper quoted the ISC's report as saying.

The paper added that the ISC report would say the 45-minute claim should never have been inserted in the dossier, but would clear Blair's media chief Alastair Campbell of accusations that he“sexed up” the document to win over opponents of war.

But the leaked ISC report also triggered furious accusations that Blair's aides were using Hoon as a fall-guy to deflect criticism of the prime minister and intelligence services.

Opposition Conservatives said Wednesday's leak Ä a day after the ISC report was handed to Downing Street Ä proved that despite“spin doctor” Campbell's high-profile resignation last month Blair was still addicted to media manipulation.

”Senior Downing Street officials are already spinning their version of the leaked report,” Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told parliament, accusing Blair of leaving Hoon“twisting in the wind”.

Blair's official spokesman denied Downing Street had spun the report to the press. He said Blair's office regarded a leak from the ISC Ä whose members are bound to secrecy Ä as a ”highly serious matter” and that an investigation may ensue.

”We have categorically denied that No. 10 (Downing Street) was responsible” for leaking the report, the spokesman told journalists.“We and the committee will want to look together into how it occurred.”

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